UPoA: When Strangers Become Friends
After some tough decision-making and a terrific selection weekend, the participants in the Touratech project "United People of Adventure" have now been decided. The six riders will set off on a Madagascar expedition with Ramona and Herbert Schwarz in April.
The chemistry was spot-on from the beginning. Candidates from all over the world, all of different ages, nationalities, beliefs and personalities, instantly became friends. And once again, the selection weekend for "United People of Adventure" showed that adventure riders are in fact very special people. However, this made the decision for Touratech CEO Herbert Schwarz and his wife Ramona even more difficult.
Although the couple had originally hoped that the weekend together with a combination of information, team-building and getting-to-know-each-other would make it easier to choose the participants for the trip to Madagascar in April, they soon realised that the reality was quite different. "We became very fond of all of the finalists, and to be honest we'd like to take them all with us." But in fact, the dream of exploring the world's fourth-largest island on a motorbike could only come true for one rider from each continent.
After a guided tour of Touratech and a get-to-know-you gathering, plus the selection of personal equipment, riding adventure bikes on an indoor motocross track, a travel workshop and project presentation, it was time to get down to business. Various behavioural and personality tests and four tricky team tasks would provide further information on the applicants' characters, weaknesses and strengths.
Skill, coordination, a good memory, cleverness and constructive talent were required, but so too were consideration and self-control. The candidates had to crack a secret code, beat a "hot wire" and construct a form of passenger transportation using wooden dowels and lengths of wool. All of these mosaic pieces created a picture in the end that decided which six participants were the best matches for "United People of Adventure".
One of the most emotional moments was undoubtedly when the finalists had to explain why their fellow applicants absolutely had to go along on the trip to Madagascar. Nothing was false or made up, but instead the often amusing and sometimes thoughtful statements spoke of genuine warmth, respect and friendship. In an amazingly short time, strangers had become friends. The strong connection between the team members was evident in every word and gesture. There was only one downer over the selection weekend: Ismail Kirumira of Uganda, the second African candidate, did not receive a visa. "We would have loved to have him along; he would undoubtedly have enriched the group," Herbert and Ramona expressed their regret.
"The days we did spend together were such a fabulous experience that I simply don't think Madagascar could possibly be any better. Even if I'm not one of the winners, I would be incredibly happy," the words of Gunther Fischli of Brazil undoubtedly expressed what was in everyone's hearts. Robert Davies of Australia spoke of a "magical experience": "We already felt we were a team before we even knew each other properly," – a large family united in their passion for motorbikes.
But there was no avoiding it – choices had to be made, and Herbert and Ramona quite clearly found it difficult to announce their decision after an in-depth consultation with Syntura team trainer Fiona Hesse. "They are fabulous candidates, and the decision was one of the most difficult I have had to make in my life," emphasised Herbert Schwarz. "Regardless of where you're from and what you do, if you share a passion, then things simply work. This weekend confirmed that most impressively," he summed up.
In order to reduce the tension a little, at the last minute the decision was made to move the awards ceremony into the whirlpool of the accommodation. Although "awards ceremony" is probably the wrong word, because there were only winners. Even the entrants who didn't make it onto the UPoA team took with them not only a full set of riding gear courtesy of Touratech, but also lifelong memories of an unforgettable weekend, some interesting new knowledge about themselves and some important advice from the team trainer: "Carry on riding your bikes, get to know other people and different cultures, and make the world a better place". And who can argue with that?
These are the team members of "United People of Adventure":
Africa: Omar Mansour, 42, Egypt (Yamaha XT 1200 Z Super Ténéré)
Asia: July Behl, 34, India (KTM 1190 Adventure R)
Australia: Andrea Box, 25 (Triumph Tiger 800 XCX)
Europe: Gudmundur Björnsson, 58, Iceland (Honda CRF 1000L Africa Twin) - successor for Inga Birna Erlingsdóttir, 37.
North America: Benjamin Myers, 38, California (Ducati Multistrada Enduro)
South America: Gunther Fischli, 39, Brazil (Suzuki DL 1000 V-Strom)
Ramona Schwarz, 39 (BMW F 800 GS ADV)
Herbert Schwarz, 55 (BMW R 1200 GS Desierto 4).
An unexpected change…
A wise man once said: “In order to be happy we need three things: the courage to accept the things that we cannot change, enough determination to change the things that we can change and the wisdom to know the difference between the two.”
That quote is true for our UPoA rider Inga from Iceland. This week she had a very tough decision to make. Since she is still recovering from an old injury she won´t be able to join the team for the Madagascar trip this April. By stepping back from this once in a lifetime opportunity and giving her spot to her European teammate Gudmundur she shows off once more what a strong and independent women she is.
We heard this news with a tear in one eye and a smile in the other. Of course, we are very sad that Inga won´t be able to go to Madagascar but on the other hand, we are happy to have Gudmundur on board who is a great contribution to the team as well.
We would like to thank Inga for the strength to make such a decision and wish her a fast and full recovery.
UPoA: Expedition into the Unknown
"United People of Adventure" promises an exciting motorbike expedition into the unknown. Here you will find more details about the Touratech adventure ride on Madagascar.
Madagascar is unique. The fourth largest island in the world combines so many superlatives that it is also known as the "sixth continent". For millions of years, this fragment of the continent Gondwana has floated in the Indian Ocean "at the bottom right, next to Africa". In its total isolation, it has developed an entirely unique flora and fauna. 90% of its flora (some 12,000 plants) and 60% of its fauna are endemic. This means they are found only here, and nowhere else on the planet.
The tropical paradise is home to primeval-looking chameleons, lemurs and the largest butterfly in the world. With 24.2 million people from 18 tribes, Madagascar is a melting pot of cultures and influences from Polynesia, Africa, Arabia and Europe. Exceptional landscapes, strange creatures, the pride and vitality of its extremely poor population attract adventure-seeking motorcycle travellers to this foreign, exotic island world.
Including Herbert and Ramona Schwarz. With "Cap Est" – on what is known as the "Vanilla coast" in the north east – as their destination, the first time they first travelled around Madagascar on their bikes was in 2012. Bourbon vanilla, the island's no. 1 export, flourishes in the hot and humid climate of one of the island's remotest and most inaccessible regions. The fact that all the roads simply come to a halt just past Antalaha presented the two – who had little time left before their return to Germany – with an insurmountable logistical problem. With heavy hearts, they had to change their plans and move onto a small boat. They could only guess at "Madagascar's most eastern point" from a distance, as they headed south on "Jenna 3", being tossed about on the stormy water.
Ramona's report of this adventure ended with the words: "One answer to the question why we travel could be, 'So we carry a place in our hearts that we will return to one day'." And now this is going to happen sooner than they thought! Madagascar as the destination for "United People of Adventure"? This was something that Herbert, for whom Africa has always held a special fascination, and Ramona, who still has an old score to settle with the Cap Est, quickly agreed on.
A 100-km wide strip of dense, evergreen rainforest stretches the entire length of the east coast. With sad regularity, tropical cyclones leave a path of destruction. Up to 5000 mm of rain can fall here during the annual rainy season. The red earth turns to mud that makes it impossible to travel the few tracks that there are. Between December and March, many places on the overland route are cut off from the rest of the island, and can only be reached by boat – if at all!
As soon as the ground is (hopefully) dry again in April 2016, Herbert and Ramona will set off from Antalaha with the six participants from all over the world. From there, they will follow a part of the 5000-km coastline. 1000 km in 10 days. The two hosts know as much (or perhaps that should be as little) about the exact route and conditions along the way as the rest of the team, having made the decision in advance not to scout. This isn't a guided tour that you can book through the Internet – it's a genuine, awfully big adventure! And will include good (and possibly a few not-so-good) surprises. From the riding point of view, they have to expect mud, deep sand, corrugated iron, gravel and lots of water. Quite an endurance test for their Touratech equipment! The riders and their bikes will all be stretched to their limits.
The first issue of "United People of Adventure" promises an exciting motorbike expedition into the unknown. Its success stands and falls by good teamwork. Everyone is equal. Everyone has to join in. Everyone will have tasks to perform. Everyone adds good ideas. Everyone is allowed to be weak! A talent for improvisation and spontaneity will be as much in demand as the ability to keep calm in difficult situations. At 30° Celsius and more, and allowing for swarms of mosquitoes, this could well be quite a challenge ;-)
What is the best way to prepare mentally for such an undertaking? Easy! By taking to heart the philosophies of the project "Have no expectations, and rely on your gut feeling", letting go of old patterns of thought, and adopting the motto of the Madagascans: "Mora mora – take life slowly!"
Life on this trip will follow a set pattern determined by the course of the sun. It will rise at 5.30 hrs, and set again at 17.30 hrs. Which means there will only be 12 hours of daylight! Short days demand good planning and sharing tasks. Each day, someone will be tasked with finding somewhere to camp, while another person has to make sure there is something good to eat on the (imaginary) table, while a third person goes off to find wood for the evening's camp fire.
The corner points of the route are: Antalaha - Cap Est - Cap Masoala (lagoon in the middle of crystal clear water) - Maroantsetra - Mananara - Soanierana Ivongo - Toamasina – Antananarivo.
Suffice it to say that the tracks that start out quite wide will get narrower, eventually becoming zebu or hiking trails. The dense mangrove forests that cover the peninsula are covered by countless tributaries. With a little luck, there will be a simple wooden bridge across them. If not, then depending on the water level, the bikers will either have to ride their bikes across them, join forces to push them, or construct a raft. It's probably a good idea to have a few lashing straps and a machete in the bags!
The travellers will struggle on valiantly until they are no longer to progress with their big bikes. Plan B will come into force by Cap Masoala at the latest! This includes a (hopefully) successful search for a boat that will safely transport everybody and everything to the other side of the bay and Maroantsetra. From there, a nasty corrugated iron track with deep sand leads back to civilisation.
It takes time to travel. As does talking to the people. Which is why a little leeway has been included in the plans for the individual daily stages, just in case of the unforeseen. And if it is actually true that the toughest routes lead to the loveliest places, then the protagonists of UPoA certainly do have some treats in store!
Herbert and Ramona want to be self-sufficient, travelling with tents and sleeping bags. They actively seek the interaction with the land and its people. Their worst nightmare would be to travel "like in a bubble" ... in a quasi-military formation, accompanied by strangers armed to the teeth with high-tech equipment, being rushed through the loveliest landscapes and missing all the loveliness along the wayside. UPoA is to be seen as a project that leaves tracks. Herbert and Ramona want to help people who have not been fortunate enough to be born into a privileged life. At the beginning of the trip, they want to visit orphans in Antalaha and see what kind of help is most urgently needed.
The UPoA project will be supported by a professional film and photo crew, everyone travelling on motorbikes. There will be photos, film footage and a 45-minute documentary report, all to be premièred at the Travel Event in Niedereschach, from 10 until 12 June 2016. All the revenue from the DVD will be donated to the orphanage.
(Text: Ramona Schwarz)
Meet the finalists!
Herbert and Ramona were spoiled for choice and it was not easy at all to find the twelve finalists for „United People of Adventure“. Six of these riders – one per continent – will join the Madagaskar ride in April.